Whether to stick with an all-rounder at number seven or play an extra batsman to counter Australia’s fiery bowling attack is the vexed question for South Africa ahead of the second Test at St George’s Park in Port Elizabeth starting on Thursday.
The Australians were clearly superior in all three disciplines in their crushing 281-run victory in the first Test in Pretoria last week, the excellent Ashes form of fast bowler Mitchell Johnson repeated at SuperSport Park as he literally hurt the South African batsmen with 12 wickets and numerous body blows.
One of those was to the side of the head of all-rounder Ryan McLaren, who has subsequently been ruled out of the second Test with concussion meaning there will be at least one change to the Proteas line-up.
It is possible McLaren might have lost his position in any event as South Africa admit they are considering replacing an all-rounder with a seventh batsman in Dean Elgar.
Aside from AB de Villiers’ 91 and 48, the top six South African batsmen managed just 57 runs in the first innings in Pretoria and 68 in the second.
The left-handed Elgar’s Test career, which started with a pair of ducks on debut against Australia in Perth in 2012 when he was bagged both times by Johnson, has been mediocre with a single unbeaten century against New Zealand and a next highest score of 27 in nine innings.
Having chosen not to call up a replacement for McLaren to their Test squad, Elgar is the only specialist batsman available for selection.
“There (has been) debate around playing an extra batter,” Proteas convener of selectors Andrew Hudson told reporters.
“Australia went in batting-heavy, relying on their three seamers and their spinner, which they did successfully.
“We need to consider putting in a batter at seven. Then we can go in with the three quicks and Robbie P (Peterson).”
Should they opt for another all-round option then Wayne Parnell will get the nod on his home ground, the left-arm quick unlucky to lose out to McLaren in the first Test.
Australia, who have not lost a Test series in South Africa since 1970, also have a selection poser in the lead-up to the Port Elizabeth game if all-rounder Shane Watson returns to fitness in time.
Watson exacerbated a persistent calf injury on the eve of the first Test and watched from the stands as new two players both made significant contributions to Australia’s cause in Pretoria.
Shaun Marsh scored a century in his first Test appearance in two years while debutante Alex Doolan came within 11 runs of a debut Test ton as Australia dominated their hosts to bat them inside four days.
“Obviously we’ll have to see what the wicket is like; whether we need the extra bowling option. You’d like him to bowl,” Australia coach Darren Lehman said on Monday, suggesting Watson would not be selected for his batting alone.
“Firstly we’ve got to get him fit, and then we’ll see what happens from there. He’s pretty close; he was running on Sunday, but at the end of the day we’ve got to get him fit and ready to play Test cricket at this level.”
The third and final Test will be played in Cape Town from Mar 1.